What is it like to do Soapbox Science? Bournemouth 2018

Back in June, I took part in my first ever live science outreach event. It was Soapbox Science in Brighton. But fast forward a few months, and I received an email asking me to fill in for someone who had dropped out of the Bournemouth event, which just happened to be the day after I submitted my thesis. So, I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate thesis submission than heading off to Bournemouth and sharing my science with a new public, so naturally I said Yes!

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If you don’t know what Soapbox Science is, then check back to my last Soapbox Science blog post to find out more about the event and also how I prepared, which incidentally was completely different to this time around.

This event was a bit more last minute so I didn’t have as much time to prepare. I also had done it before so I had all my props & I felt a bit more comfortable with it all than last time. But there were 5 major differences in my Soapbox Science experience between the Brighton event in June & this latest one in Bournemouth.

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They got my name right! Yay!

A simple thing I know but I do science communication & outreach to celebrate the research I do, but also so people can find me and reach out to ask about any questions they have about stem cells, blogging or doing a PhD and so on. Something that the audience in Brighton would have missed out on because I also made the rookie mistake of not telling them where they could follow me either! But at least this time they would have known my name to search for me if they had any questions!

|| Image: Soapbox stand with two stem cells stuck to the front and a lab coat hanging off ||

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The Bournemouth event was part of a bigger arts festival.

The soapboxes this time were amongst the much busier hustle and bustle of the busy town square & also competing with various other great performers. Whereas last time we had a designated area purely for the Soapbox Science event. So I had to compete with the noise and distractions around me for the attention of the public.

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|| Image: Soph stood on Soapbox with lab coat on with stem cell game to the side amongst lots of passers by ||

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I had my Re-Generation Game!

You might remember from my last event that my huge stem cell map prop did not arrive in time so I spent the night before frantically printing, laminating and cutting ready for plan B. But this time my Re-Generation game was ready to roll and actually helped me to attract the listeners in & importantly grabbed the attention of the younger minds strolling past.

The game is a simple concept that I am perfecting. The aim of the game is to show the two main superpowers of stem cells – their ability to differentiate & their ability to self renew. You start in the centre with a ping pong ball aka your pluripotent stem cell. You then roll the dice and see which chemical or growth factor you are exposed to which starts you on your differentiation path. If you roll a six, then means the stem cell self renews or makes a copy of themselves – something they will do until they are fully differentiated! – and you get another ping pong ball, I mean stem cell!

I had a family of three siblings stop by and play my game with me which they loved and it was great to see them grasp the two stem cell superpowers. In the previous outings of my game, I have set my volunteers a scenario or a goal. For example, we want to help grow an arm for someone who had lost theirs. We identify the cell types needed and try and create them. As you might guess its not as easy as it sounds so also gives me a chance to demonstrate a little what we want to achieve with stem cell therapies & where we are now. But at this event with only an hour to introduce stem cells to everyone that was interested I had to adapt how I used my prop not to lose the interest of others & to give the kids a few key take home messages – at least I hope I did.

||Image: Stem cell game on the floor next to my soapbox stand||

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Getting people to listen to me was completely different!

This was the biggest difference I found between the Brighton & Bournemouth events. When I stood on my soapbox by the seafront I had an audience waiting for me & they stayed for the entire half hour I spoke before repeating. This time as I stood on my soapbox I looked up to no-one. Just a lot of people walking between me and the other speakers just getting on with their days. Then I realised I had no creative ways to entice people over. Something I could have and should have prepared.

Then because it was in a much busier area, any listeners seem to stay for much shorter amounts of time so my stem cell speech this time was much shorter and the key points were repeated more often rather than a more rounded overview I felt I gave at the last event.

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|| Image: Soph holding up sketch book with stem cell facts on talking to the public from her soapbox||

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I got a lot more ‘one to one’ time with passers by.

One of the HUGE positives to the audience not sticking around as long as last time. With more people sticking around for a good 30 minutes in Brighton, I was giving almost a lecture about an introduction to stem cells with a little Q+A at the end. What I loved about these shorter visits was I got to tailor what I was saying to the person more whether it was a child or an adult. But it also sparked more of a discussion and gave the audience more of an opportunity to ask me the questions that they had and tailor the info I was sharing to what they were interested in or had heard about. I got asked about the uses of umbilical cord stem cells and banking to why our veins appeared blue even though our blood is red to where the embryonic stem cells I use come from. It was much more personal which I absolutely loved too.

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Despite having done Soapbox Science before, this time was very different and still had it’s challenges that I had to adapt to and I once again learnt a lot about how I can improve & build my confidence again.

But a few things didn’t change. People still wanted to come over and learn about stem cells and my research. People still wanted to learn about science. And I still stepped off my soapbox after an hour with a rush of adrenaline having loved doing this event.

My next Soapbox goal is to organise an event but as the organiser application deadline has passed and I’m not sure where I will be in a few months time I will have to put that goal on hold for a year. But I’m hoping I can tick another city off my Soapbox Science bucket list in 2019!

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Have you done a Soapbox Science event before? What was your experience? Or maybe you’ve attended an event? I would love to know what you thought too. If you have any questions about Soapbox Science please don’t be afraid to ask!

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Science love.

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